Unrest: Part Five
Relief flooded through Massie as she realized that she had managed to keep her panic in check and thus not give herself away.
"Mass!" Dethrin leapt from his sack den and flung his arms around her. "That was sooo cool! Didja hypnotize her or something? How come she didn't catch you?"
Looking at his wildly excited face, she couldn't help getting excited as well. I've finally learned to control my powers... I won't have to be afraid anymore!
As elation coursed through her veins, rendering her lightheaded with relief, a familiar sensation slipped through her mind, and she drew in a sharp breath.
Roshna breathed out sharply once she had put a healthy distance between herself and the boat. When Aliss had suggested allying with the river-pets, she had vehemently protested against the idea, finding the prospect of an alliance with the rebel pets repulsive, but then again, since they were on the run from Faerie Law, they couldn't afford to be picky while choosing associates.
Besides, the pets had upheld their side of the bargain, patrolling the waters for the apprentice, providing them with a hiding-place when needed, and carrying their supplies from one place to another. Indeed, as grubby, smuggling, radical pets, they had exceeded her expectations... though it did not make their alliance a less repugnant one... by much, anyway.
And I do enjoy seeing the fear in their eyes. Roshna smiled to herself, remembering the small Speckled Shoyru cringing away from her.
And then a foudroyant blast of power struck at her. For a moment, she was dizzy with the rich, piquant scent of the magic, spinning on a current of intoxicating power, relishing the smooth feel of the current run through her senses, the gradually dimming world around her, the absence of air in her lungs, leaving her senses free to concentrate on the magic, leaving her lungs free to inhale the gorgeous, glorious magic... and unburdened with the smell of quaggy air or sweat or salt, her nostrils caught the distinct smell of chocolate... and acid.
"NO!" Somehow her thrashing lungs managed to catch a bubble of air and the scream burst from her, renting the air, dispelling the crudely-wrought yet frighteningly powerful spell.
Roshna gulped for air, a shudder running through her as she realized how close she had come to having all of the air crushed from her body.
Not a particularly loud noise, but loud enough to attract the attention of a Peophin pretending to sleep.
Annette opened her eyes and glanced at Raven. "Did you hear that?"
The Uni didn't stir from her position on the cabin's only bed. "Hear it, yes. Care about it? No. Stop all your dithering, I think you're burning something."
Annette checked herself. "I'm not."
"Well, something is burning."
"The cook could be making failed lunch."
"Great," Raven grumbled, rolling over. "I mean it, stop all your mother-Pteriing. We saw them jump onto the boat, so they aren't lost. Unless, of course, they slipped and fell into the sea and drowned, which would be ideal."
Annette ignored the speech, looking up at the discoloured ceiling, at the exhausted shadows bobbing along with the boat in synchronization with the waves, and the bright gleam of well-polished metal, probably pots and pans, or the little talismans the sailors all seemed to carry as wards against misfortune.
Again, a thump and a thump and a thump, and another one. Then the sound of something metal shattering, what she guessed to be a curse in a broad, seafarer accent, and the rapid pattering of running feet.
"I'm going up to look up for Massie and Dethrin," Annette told Raven, adjusting the brim of her Halloween hat so that it cast her eyes into shadow. "Don't open the door. Don't go down to the kitchen to ask for food. Don't tell anyone I'm not here."
"Now there's a waterproof, airtight plan sure to help us all safe and unobtrusive that no one else could possibly have thought of." Beneath her eyelids, Annette was sure that she had seen Raven's eyes roll. "I do like the part about my sleeping and staying out of harm's way, though."
Dethrin saw Massie's eyes widen and assumed that the faerie had come back. Finally, I get a real, live faerie to fight! he thought with glee as he pulled out his trusty dagger and gave a roar that contained the delight of a five-year-old wish finally granted.
"Run, Massie!" he yelled, bravely and excitedly. "I'll take care of her!"
As he turned, he saw the figure raise her arm and saw the mossy green of her hair flashing in the sunlight. It's just a pet, he thought despondently, then threw himself to the side as the Kyrii raised a large poker and brought it down. It made a dull, painful thump as it hit the place he had just deserted.
"Scurvy spies!" she spat, backing him into a corner (probably). "And do you know what we do with spies?" she asked, raising her poker once more.
"Not really," said Dethrin quietly, edging to the side, hoping to avoid his (probable) fate of being backed into a corner.
Abandoning all efforts to stay calm, Massie dashed across the deck (which was painfully small). The thrum of wings behind her told her that the faerie was after her.
As she dashed towards a downstairs-staircase, another faerie dropped from the sky and strode towards her. With a half-sob, Massie threw herself forward with the full force of panic and felt a small bubble of triumph blossom as she reached the stairway and charged down.
Skidding to a halt, she reached a branch hallway and bolted left, only to feel the bubble burst as another faerie stood before her, her hands menacingly shimmering. With a gasp she leapt away from the faerie and ran back the way she came, to the only way left, and stumbled. Yet another faerie stood before her, arms outstretched.
"Stop running from us," she commanded, her voice echoing slightly in the dark passage. "There is no speed that can save you now, unless you cooperate." Her heart beating wildly, Massie looked behind her. The other faerie was closing in as well. A dreadful sinking cold stole over her.
A harsh crack and a round piece of roof cracked, splinters of wood, tar and plaster showering upon them. From the hole descended four other faeries, their expressions wary.
They're afraid of me! Massie realized with a jolt of shock, and saw a piece of wood burst into flames. One of the faeries gestured, strain evident on her face.
"I've contained it." She panted. "But I can't put it out unless she stops fighting to keep it lit." From the way the word 'she' hissed out, Massie guessed that they were talking about her.
"End it, apprentice," the nearest faerie said. "End it, or you could destroy all."
"Why should I?" asked Massie, looking for a gap between the faeries that would afford her an exit.
The faerie frowned at her. "Jhudora was right—you really aren't very intelligent... we do not wish you harm." She muttered something, and the faeries each retreated a few steps. "We have not bound you, nor have we attempted to cause you injury. We—"
A Bori peered down from the hole. "Idiots, sawin' holes in—" Seeing the faeries, he stopped, eyes widening. One of the faeries looked up and gestured urgently.
"Get away," she snapped. "Have everyone go to their rooms and stay there... but leave a window or two open."
The frightened pet's face disappeared from the hole, and the rapid retreat of booted feet was heard.
"Apprentice," the nearest faerie bent down, watching her face cautiously. "Listen. We are not going to kill you. We are here to—"
Massie felt a blistering heat pressed into her face. Turning, she saw that the fire was spreading. Something glistening black and wet was sliding down the walls. Tar, she realized with another pang of fear. The faerie trying to contain her fires wavered, and the fires flared excitedly. Cursing, the faerie turned towards Massie, her palms beginning to crackle—
"Ellemel!" the nearest faerie said warningly.
"I'm not KILLING her, I'm just going to knock her out so—"
"NO!" A few azure sparks sprang from her fingertips. "Knocking her out will make it worse! She'll leak magic all over the place and soon—"
"Well, since she's leaking magic anyway, why don't we just—"
The wall behind Massie began to shake. The faeries quickly stopped their argument and threw their arms out as the quake spread. The Shoyru gasped as cracks began to shoot out in the wooden planking beneath her feet.
"YOU SEE?" bawled Ellemel. "She's going to kill us! We might as well—"
"IF SHE DIES, HER POWERS MIGHT—"
Massie couldn't follow their conversation anymore. Magic was flowing from her like water spurting out from a broken hosepipe, and it, combined with the heat, made the world around a whirl, and she was at the center of the howling vortex, thoughts swirling giddily like leaves in a cup of tea.
—Massila, listen to me.
The crazy churn did not cease, but rather, expanded a little, giving her a small niche of calm. She could still feel the rabid whirlwind, waiting for her to step out so it could tear her away, devour her, but here, it could not touch her. Still... the walls of her small haven didn't seem to be very strong.
Then she became aware that the voice hadn't been the faerie speaking aloud, but someone projecting thoughts into her mind. There was a person at the edge of her mind, in the maelstrom outside, but seemingly completely unaffected.
Listen to me. You have almost completely lost control of your power.
Though there were no words, the meaning was clear—and terrifying. She understood at once that the power would burn her to ashes if she did not learn to control it.
Did Jhudora tell you how to find the source of your power?
Massie nodded mentally, delving within herself to find a writhing, twisting sphere of liquid light.
Good, good... now do with this. Abruptly, she became aware of another... sphere of light—hardly sphere really, more like a many-ringed planet—periwinkle in color, its eerie glow everywhere... even permeating her fur, seeping into her fur...
Massie shivered. This faerie was powerful.
Pay attention, the voice reminded her, and she watched as, with a flex of her will, the faerie drew power from her sphere, shaped it and released it.
Go ahead, try it.
Focusing on her own power, Massie willed a little of its energy to come forth. Her own magic filled her mind. She had only to wish it would go, and it was gone.
Very nice. Now do it again, and again, slowly, until you have used up all of your power. Don't worry; it will return. But for now, you are untrained, and are dangerous with powers so powerful.
Her chest swelled as she inhaled deeply and let it out. In, out, in, out... once she had begun, it seemed eager to do her will. Her power diminished, growing paler and paler, until her mind was dark.
It is done.
She heard the pleasure in the voice, and... amusement? She opened her eyes and blinked at the destruction surrounding her. The walls were blackened with soot, the air was choked with the overwhelming stench of charred Conkerberries, decorations and furniture had seemingly rolled into the hall and were all adorned with various burn marks, and the boat was swaying dangerously. Around her, six faeries stood, regarding her cautiously.
"What was that?" one of the dark-skinned faeries asked, looking shaken. Upon squinting and peering closely at the faerie, Massie saw that her dark coloring was due to the dust and soot and dark wood splinters all over her.
That's funny... thought Massie. I've never seen a faerie look that messy before... I thought they...were supposed...to...have...shields...and everything...
Aliss bent down and felt for the Shoyru's pulse. Still beating. Too fast for normal, but alive.
"Lucky," she whispered.
"You think?" Yna grumbled, dusting at her hair grumpily. The Shoyru had seemingly focused on her for a few moments, then, seeing her slovenly appearance, fainted. "What was that, really?"
"Someone taught her to release her powers." Sarle gestured around at the scattered destruction. "And either they were a poor teacher... or they were hoping that we'd be killed."
Ellemel's eyes narrowed. "Her."
"Maybe, but maybe not. It could have been Fyora... after all, she does believe that we've been practicing dark magic and plotting to take over Faerieland." Elwyn looked around and made a face. "The river-pets will probably expect us to fix this."
"A pet for an apprentice," said Sarle thoughtfully. "I wonder why Jhudora chose her?"
"For her power, obviously. Look at me!" Syldris tugged at her airy blonde/ashy grey tresses. "She managed to crush all of our shields!"
"This is stupid," Raven grumbled to herself, and rolled off of the bed, in search of the kitchen.
This whole thing was stupid; having to have Massie home for the holidays, having to find out that she had lost control of her powers, having to experience her too-strong powers, having to flee civilization, having to give the boat's captain all of her neopoints so they could hide from the faeries for a little while longer, and now, boredom and starvation.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," she muttered, as she sidestepped a small pile of table decorations. "That had better not have been the chef burning lunch, or—
"Oh gods. What's that smell?"
A strong odor of metal and spices wafted out from a swinging wooden door and she pushed her way in. "Do you have anything edible?" she asked the presumed Grundo chef, who was in the act of bringing some thick, grey liquid to a boil.
"Ugh. Never mind." She eyes the liquid with distaste, then sniffed. "Hmm... that burning smell isn't coming from here after all..."
Dethrin ducked another blow from the green Kyrii. Her strength was incredible, and the only time he had attempted to parry, he had nearly lost his dagger. His hands and wrists and legs and necks and tails were numb, and the Kyrii had already poked him with her poker. Twice. And hard.
He staggered backwards and looked around to see whether Massie had escaped yet, so he could run away too...
The Kyrii struck again. Dethrin dodged, and the poker swung around like a boomerang at his head. He didn't have time to move—she was too fast, too strong—and he wondered if suddenly remembering the Tonu he fought last year counted as "having his life flash before his eyes".
I hope she misses, he thought to himself as the "VROUW" engraved on her poker flashed brightly and clattered against the floorboards.
Roshna was irritated (though not too surprised) when she saw the captain's wife about to skewer the apprentice's accomplice. Sighing, she drew the sword she brought along for occasions like these, intercepted the poker, twisted and knocked the Kyrii off balance.
She swore viciously, then glowered at Roshna. "We have waAAAAAAAAAAAY—!" The barge swayed and disgorged its insides—in this case, several large barrels of aged Conkerberry grog.
The Kyrii whirled around as well as she could with the ship rolling around like a marble to face Roshna. "Bring them back!"
The faerie raised one delicate eyebrow. "Why should I?"
"You lost them!"
"No, I did not. And—" She raised a hard to forestall any more accusations. "—none of my companions caused that either."
As if to highlight "that", the barge rocked violently again, and thick smoke started trickling out of an open porthole.
"WHAT DID YOU DO?"
"None of us did anything. The rogue is doing it. She's gotten onto your barge, and she's about to lose control... and—"
"Inman," cried the Kyrii, and ran off. Roshna let her, impassively watching her charge through the barrel entrance, brandishing her poker.
"Hey," a young, overeager voice said from somewhere around her elbow. She looked down.
It was the accomplice.
"Aren't you gonna chase her or something, and zap her with your lightning bolts?"
Roshna stared at him.
"What's the matter? Can't you throw lightning bolts?"
"Why should I?"
"Why do you need to have a reason for everything?"
"Why would I do anything without reason to?"
"Jhudora said you guys didn't. She said you only got good and bad lately."
"That would be because Jhudora is not one of us."
Massie partly-awoke, as if the sudden lull in the barge's violent pitching had been the halfhearted wheezing of an alarm clock; not enough to make her open her eyes, but enough to make her start hearing things.
A short way away from her, a meeting or something was going on, people all trying quietly to make themselves heard.
"She's a puppet, it's obvious. And..." a voice with a rustic accent that didn't swallow letters was saying.
"...does it... whose..."
"...te our c...
"...'tis a gift... can use... resistance..."
It was all a low rumble of words, until a high, clear voice said loudly, "She will not be used."
"Have you spoken to her, Sarle?"
"I didn't need to. As you can see from our somewhat ragged appearances," there was a pause during which Massie imagined the speaker was gesturing, "We have experienced her power..." Here her voice dropped to a whisper, and Massie was left to wonder why they found it necessary to whisper, when she, so obviously, wasn't listening.
Annette slid towards the faerie, whispering a flame into being. I hope she’s not shielding, the Peophin thought grimly. Otherwise the flame will sputter out before it punches through.
As the flame left her hoof, leaping for the faerie's heel, the faerie turned around and said, "Are you the rogue, or did you have an incompetent teacher?"
Annette was so startled the flame fizzled, and, a foot away from the faerie, blinked out of existence.
The faerie turned, and gave her a nasty grin. "Actually, I was just bluffing. The flame would have punched through my shield. I could have countered it, of course, but why waste power when I can trick you into wasting yours? So... your name?"
Annette growled in frustration. Such an elementary ruse to have fallen for...
"Interesting name. More suited for a feral Werelupe than a mage, though. Are you Jhudora's whilom apprentice?"
"Then you are the accomplice? Or one of the accomplices, I should say," she amended, wrinkling her brow slightly at the same moment Annette felt a message ripple through the air.
"Ah. We have your sister," the faerie said, drawing the spells for truth and clarity in the air, where they hung, glowing a bright ruby. "You must trust that we do not wish to harm her... yet. And we will not unless it becomes necessary."
"And when would you deem it necessary to harm her?"
"If we haven't misjudged the situation, very soon."
To be continued...